Here in the northern hemisphere, winter has wrapped us in her monochromatic prison. A solid deck of gray clouds means you need a clock to tell the difference between night and day, and by about the first week of February, it gets to feeling like you’ll never see a blue sky again. It’s depressing, to be honest, and the lack of sunlight can even lead to a mood disorder known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.
SAD therapy is deceptively simple — bright full-spectrum light, and lots of it, to simulate the sun and stimulate the lizard brain within us. Not surprisingly, such lights are available commercially, but when [Justin Lam] bought one to help with his Vancouver blues, he decided to analyze the lamp’s output to determine whether the $70 he spent paid for therapy or marketing.
The initial teardown was not encouraging, with what appeared to be a standard CFL “curly fry” light with a proprietary base in a fancy plastic enclosure. With access to a spectrometer, [Justin] confirmed that not only does the SAD light have exactly the same spectrum as a regular CFL, the diffuser touted to provide “full UV protection” does so simply by attenuating the entire spectrum evenly so that the UV exposure falls below the standards. In short, he found that the lamp was $70 worth of marketing wrapped around a $1.50 CFL. Caveat emptor.
Hats off to [Justin] for revealing the truth behind the hype, and here’s hoping he finds a way to ameliorate his current SAD situation. Perhaps one of these DIY lamps will be effective without the gouging.
The secret of cold-brew coffee is out. Department stores are selling gimmicks to make it at home or you can make it with a mason jar in good old-fashioned DIY style. This method is for the on-the-go hacker who may not have even the most spartan of equipment to brew a cold cup of Joe. Many hotel rooms are outfitted with a cheap percolating coffee machine and proprietary pods. The pods are just a sachet of filter paper with ground coffee inside.
Leave that percolating fire hazard unplugged and brew those pods overnight in a glass of water. In eight hours, you have a cup of rocket fuel. Compost the spent pod and away you go. Don’t heat your brew in the coffee maker, that’ll probably wreck it. Nuke it if you need it hot.
If coffee implements are your bag, here’s a 3D printed coffee bean grinder but be sure to read up on 3D printing and food safety. If coffee isn’t your cup of tea, how about a perfectly timed cup of tea?
Cheap DC-DC converters have been a boon on the hobbyist bench for a while now, but they can wreak havoc with sensitive circuits if you’re not careful. The problem: noise generated by the switch-mode supply buried within them. Is there anything you can do about the noise?
As it turns out, yes there is, and [Shahriar] at The Signal Path walks us through a basic circuit to reduce noise from DC-DC converters. The module under the knife is a popular buck-boost converter with a wide input range, 0-32 VDC output at up to 5 amps, and a fancy controller with an LCD display. But putting the stock $32 supply on a scope reveals tons of harmonics across a 1 MHz band and overall ripple of about 66 mV. But a simple voltage follower built from a power op-amp and a Zener diode does a great job of reducing the spikes and halving the ripple. The circuit is just a prototype and is meant more as a proof of principle and launching point for further development, and as such it’s far from perfect. The main downside is the four-volt offset from the input voltage; there’s also a broad smear of noise at the high end of the spectrum that persists even with the circuit in place.
Centered around 900 MHz as it is, we suspect a cell signal of some sort is getting in. 900 kHz.
If you haven’t checked out the videos at The Signal Path, you really should. [Shahriar] really has a knack for explaining advanced topics in RF engineering, and has a bench to die for. We’ve covered quite a few of his projects before, from salvaging a $2700 spectrum analyzer to multiplexing fiber optic transmissions.
Continue reading “Cleaning up a Low-Cost Buck-Boost Supply”
If you have about an hour to kill, you might want to check out [Shahriar’s] video about the Stanford Research SR530 lock in amplifier (see below). If you know what a lock in amplifier is, it is still a pretty interesting video and if you don’t know, then it really is a must see.
Most of the time, you think of an amplifier as just a circuit that makes a small signal bigger in some way — that is, increase the voltage or increase the current. But there are whole classes of amplifiers designed to reject noise and the lock in amplifier is one of them. [Shahriar’s] video discusses the math theory behind the amplifier, shows the guts, and demonstrates a few experiments (including measuring the speed of sound), as well.
Continue reading “Lock In Amplifiers”
So you want to photograph Eclipse 2017 but you don’t want to rush out and buy an expensive DSLR just for the event? Not a problem, if you build this simple smartphone filter and occluder.
It all started innocently enough for [Paul Bryson] with his iPhone and a lens from those cheap cardboard eclipse glasses we’re starting to see everywhere. Thinking that just taping the filter over the stock lens would do, [Paul] got a painful faceful of sunshine when he tried framing a shot. Turns out the phone body was not big enough to blot out the sun, and besides, the stock lens doesn’t exactly make for a great shot. So with an iPhone telephoto lens affixed to a scrap of wood and a properly positioned filter, [Paul] has a simple rig that’ll let him get some great pre-totality shots of the eclipse, and it’ll be easy to bust out the phone for two minutes of totality selfies. Looks like this setup would be easy to adapt to other phones, too.
We’re all over Eclipse 2017, from Hackaday Eclipse Meetups in at least four different points along the path of totality to experiments on relativity to citizen science efforts so you can get in on the action too. Mark your calendars – August 21 will be here before you know it.
It may not be the radio station with all the hits and the best afternoon drive show, but 1420.4058 MHz is the most popular frequency in the universe. That’s the electromagnetic spectral line of hydrogen, and it’s the always on the air. But studying the H-line is a non-trivial task unless you know how to cascade low-noise amplifiers and filters to use an SDR for radio astronomy.
Because the universe is mostly made of hydrogen, H-line emissions are abundant, and their distribution can tell us a lot about the structure of galaxies. The 21-cm emission line is so characteristic and so prevalent that we used it as a unit of measurement on the plaques aboard the Pioneer probes as well as in the instructions for playing back the Voyager recordings. But listening in on 21-cm here on Earth requires a special setup, which [Adam (9A4QV)] describes in a detailed paper on the subject (PDF). [Adam] analyzes multiple configurations of LNAs and filters, both of which he sells, to determine the optimum front-end for 21-cm work. His analysis is a good primer on LNAs and explains why the front-end gear needs to be as close to the antenna as possible. Using his LNAs and filters and an SDR dongle, a reasonable 21-cm rig can be had for about $200 or so, less the antenna. He promises a follow-up paper on homebrew 21-cm antennas; we’ll be looking forward to that.
Not keen on the music of the spheres and prefer to listen to our own spacecraft instead? Then read up on the Deep Space Network and how you can snoop in.
If you are a wine, beer, or cider maker, you’ll know the ritual of checking for fermentation. As the yeast does its work of turning sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide bubbles froth on the surface of your developing brew, and if your fermentation container has an airlock, large bubbles pass through the water within it on a regular basis. Your ears become attuned to the regular “Plop… plop… plop” sound they make, and from their interval you can tell what stage you have reached.
[Chris] automated this listening for fermentation bubbles, placing a microphone next to his airlock and detecting amplitude spikes through two techniques: one using an FFT algorithm and the other a bandpass filter. Both techniques yielded similar graphs for fermentation activity over time.
He has a few ideas for improvement, but notes that his system is vulnerable to external noises. There is also an admission that using light to detect bubbles might be a more practical solution as we have shown you more than once with other projects, but as with so many projects on these pages, it is the joy of the tech as much as the practicality that matters.